Jan 16

Big Data Case Study: Stopping Malaria with Cell Phones

by Kelley Johnson

According to NGO Malaria No More, Malaria could be the first disease to be cured by a mobile phone. No, there isn’t an app that dispenses medicine (yet…), but mobile technology is making collecting data about the disease easier and faster, helping the organization faster mobilize resources to stop malaria.


Graphic from Malaria No More about mobile phones fighting the disease.


In a pilot program in Tanzania called SMS for life, health care providers reported their stock of anti-malarial drugs to ensure that people didn’t seek treatment only to be told that the drugs they needed weren’t available. At the beginning of the mobile reporting, 26% of were out of the drugs at some point, but at the end of the reporting, the numbers were down to 1%.

A program in Nigeria worked with mobile phones to combat the problem of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs, letting patients confirm that the drugs they had purchased were genuine. These programs help to track medicines, which are an important step towards efficient management of resources.

In this example of Big Data for development, we see a collection of data that would normally be seen in a retail setting used for a higher purpose. The same technology is used by retailers to keep track of purchasing and stocking trends so that they can move around resources. We can see that technology that is originally developed for profit can have positive implications in the development world.

One of the common criticisms of Big Data for development is the lack of informed consent by study participants, but this example has no tracking of actual malaria patients, just medical supplies reported by healthcare providers.





Taylor L, Schroeder R. 2015: Is bigger better? The emergence of big data as tool for international development policy. GeoJournal 11 october 2014

Jan 16

Big Data Case Study: AIDSVu

by Kelley Johnson

A caputre from AIDSVU showing the prevelance of HIV in the Milwaukee, WI, USA compared with the population with a High School education.

A capture from AIDSVU showing the prevalence of HIV in the Milwaukee, WI, USA compared with the population with a High School education.

AIDSVu is an interactive map that uses data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to visually display people living with HIV in the United States. The map breaks down other factors than a person’s diagnosis, including poverty, education level, income inequality and whether or not people in the area have health insurance. The AIDSVu maps are an excellent example of how Big Data can be used in the field of development.

A capture from AIDSVu

A capture from AIDSVu

Although the information contained in the report is from several reports done by the CDC, it presents it in a much more accessible format and collects it all in one place for easy and open access.

This data meets the two UN Global Pulse report’s criteria (as referenced by our definition article about Big Data) for big data and development. It contextualizes the data by comparing several factors so that even a casual reader can see that certain areas have higher levels of the disease. The information is sophisticated and accessible, with countless uses for organizations that work to help people with the disease. For example, the map breaks the data down according to how people living in that county became infected, an invaluable resource for health departments and community organizations working towards prevention. The website also provides resources for testing and care.




Dec 15

How New Media is Opening Politics

by Kelley Johnson


Photo courtesy of The White House’s Flickr showing President Obama participating in a Twitter question and answer session.

In the article Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, we learn how to analyze new media for its effect on politics. There are five levels of analysis that the article explores, and three of these levels can be seen easily in contemporary American politics.


Individual Transformation


This concept makes politics more accessible than traditional forms of media such as news broadcasts or articles, and can change the way people understand information about politics. However, it can make people more passive in their political participation, for example by choosing to tweet about something instead of attending a rally.


An example of this transformation in the 2016 American Presidential election was the Democratic debate on November 14. Using the hashtag #demdebate, users reacted in real time to the debate, including Republican contender Donald Trump. The moderator in the debate even mentioned the online comments when she framed additional questions to the candidates. Without this forum, the average interested viewer trying to decide who to vote for would have no chance to change the focus of the questions to what they want to hear about.


Intergroup Relations


Intergroup Relations builds upon the idea that you can use the internet to facilitate communication between disparate groups. It can also be that it is even more polarizing, as many social media users have seen, being used by opposing groups to trade barbs about important political issues.


One example of intergroup relations is the use of the hashtag #lovewins, created in order to celebrate the American Supreme Court descision legalizing gay marriage throughout the country. Obviously the hastag garnered a lot of support and positive messages, but, as all hashtags, it could also be used for negative comments. It is a way to gather all commentary about the issue.


Collective Action


During the Arab Spring, new media forms such as Facebook and Twitter, came onto the scene as a meaningful way for the revolution to burn. These forms of communication can help get around an oppressive government, a way to protest without the risk of assembling, or a way to communicate with other supporters of a movement without having to be physically together. A large social media campaign can encourage people who would not have been active to come forward, once they see popular support is so large.


An example of this is contemporary American politics is the Black Lives Matter movement, including the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, which gathered support throughout the country and the world, and started a meaningful conversation about violence.


These three factors in particular can help us to examine the effect of new media on politics. As evidenced by the examples above, New Media has a great effect on politics, and will continue to have a greater effect as these variations of media permeate the mainstream and influence the course of elections, movements and activism.



Aday, S., Farrell, H., Lynch, M. et al. 2010: Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.





Oct 15

Cell Phone Tracking for Big Data: An invasion of privacy, or an essential tool?

By Kelley Johnson

8521338394_ec9d0e1f06_m(CC image courtesy of Nicola on Flickr)

Data collected by local citizens on the ground in places that might be inaccessible to the people who usually collect this data due to conflict, natural disasters or geographic distance has become more common in recent years thanks to the prevalence of cell phones and various information channels[1]. This boon to data collection can help governments, policy makers and NGOs in ways that traditionally-collected data often fell short. Continue reading →

Oct 15

The frames of #aidrefugees

By Kelley Johnson

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 20.25.38

The #aidrefugees campaign raised over 1.7 million USD for the UNHCR, and provided an interesting case study of how Twitter can be a powerful promotional and knowledge tool for fundraising. However, when we analyse the tweets through the lens of Communication for Development, we can reach some conclusions that are both interesting and relevant to development today.

Continue reading →

Oct 15

BIG DATA and the GDELT project

By Gianni Giosue

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 20.00.20This website will take you directly to the genesis of the GDELT project which came to light “from a desire to better understand global human society and especially the connection between communicative discourse and physical societal-scale behaviour.” So far so good!

Continue reading →